The UN chief today appealed for dialogue to resolve fears of a Turkish offensive against Kurdish rebels based in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki pledged to work with his country’s neighbours to fight terrorism.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Iraqi leader were in Istanbul for an international meeting on Iraq’s future that has been overshadowed by the border tension, which escalated sharply over the last month amid a series of attacks by the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
“The series of incidents along the border between Turkey and Iraq demonstrates the need for continuous engagement to address concerns,” Ban said. “We recognise Turkey’s security concerns.”
Ban said attacks by rebels based in Iraq were “clearly unacceptable”.
Maliki – under intense pressure from Turkey and the US to help end rebel attacks on Turkey – pledged his government would join the effort.
“We will co-operate with our neighbours in defeating this threat,” Maliki said. However, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Friday that it was extremely difficult to stop Kurdish rebels in Iraq’s remote northern border region from attacking Turkey.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said delegates had agreed on the text of a final declaration in which they pledge to take action against terrorism, prevent the passage of illegal arms into Iraq, and ensure tighter control of borders with Iraq.
They also support a greater role for the United Nations in the reconciliation of the sides in Iraq, and back the creation of a Baghdad-based “support unit” for Iraq, according to the official. He spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
Turkey is hosting the session, which includes about two dozen nations and organisations pledging to support Iraq’s US-backed government, economically and politically.
The guest list includes Iran and Syria, two nations the US blames for furthering instability and violence inside Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat across from Iran’s foreign minister at an opening dinner Friday night, but the two had no private meeting - something Iraq and many other Mideast nations had hoped for.
Until now, Iraq’s border with Turkey to the north was not considered much of a problem for US forces or the fragile government in Baghdad. That changed over the past month with an onslaught of attacks by the PKK.
The deaths of dozens of people over the past month have pushed Turkey to threaten a major offensive across the Iraq border unless Iraq and the US can neutralise the rebels first.